The decision to serve your community and put others before yourself is a very commendable act. From the outside looking in, it appears beautiful and enticing. There is a lot of honor, recognition, and appeal for this career, however, what is not seen from the outside are the sleepless nights, subjection to trauma, and time away from your family or loved ones. Not to mention the exposure to harmful and deadly elements. These things should not deter you from joining the fire service but instead aid in your training and education on what it means to choose this career. In the next five points I will discuss ways to keep you healthy, successful, and grounded if you decide to serve in the fire service.
# 1 Enter the fire service in peak physical condition. This means adhere to a strength and conditioning routine that works best for you and is also job specific. This includes body weight training, resistance training, along with aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. Data shows how vital physical fitness is in reducing injury – which, in turn, helps with longer work capacity cycles. Similarly, physical fitness aids in recovery if injury does occur during critical incidents.
# 2 Take every opportunity to master your craft. This can be done via department sponsored classes, researching topics that peak your interest, as well as fully understanding your role and responsibilities in the specific position you hold. Always look for opportunities to improve your skill set as a firefighter/rescue technician. This career is ever changing and the emergencies that you will respond to are all unique. You never know what you will encounter – therefore it is important to be equipped. The more knowledge and skills that you possess, the better asset you will be to your organization.
# 3 Develop mental resilience. It is essential to develop tools that will help aid in the strength to deal with traumas and hardships that are experienced in this line of work. What does developing mental resilience look like? Having your personal affairs in order as much as you have control of. This can be through finances, living conditions, and relationships. Understanding that the only thing you do have control over is your behavior and your reactions. Having solid self care practices such as; meditation, journaling, education, exercise, hobbies (outside the work environment)…the list goes on. In addition, having someone who you trust to share things with like a family member, friend, or professional.
Sleep is also extremely important when it comes to developing mental resilience. It is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and well being. This career path has extreme sleep interruptions and as a firefighter/emergency technician it is your responsibility to get the adequate sleep you need to perform at peak level. Sleep gives your body and mind the time to recover. It also aids in the brain’s ability to process trauma and stressors that you will experience on a daily basis in a healthy manner.
# 4 Understand your identity. Know that being a first responder is your career choice – not something that becomes your identity. Understand and acknowledge who you are as an individual. You can do this by identifying a core set of values. You will need to lean into these values not only in the workplace, but at home as well. As young adults coming into the fire service, we are still learning who we are as individuals, family members, and community members. It is important to comprehend that who we are is not what we do, just like any other occupation. This is especially hard to do when you spend 24, 48, or even 72 hours doing a specific job. However, it will allow the transition from work to home to be smooth and will enable you to be present for the people in your life. In addition, lean into your passions. As we talked about before, it is vital to identify things you enjoy doing outside of your job in the fire service. Take time to explore these options and practice them in your free time.
# 5 Prepare for retirement. To every beginning there is an end. There are lots of ways to prepare for retirement; financially, physically, and mentally. Understand your financial needs and wants and prepare for those in the future. You can do this through savings accounts and investments. Understand and acknowledge there will be an end to this career. This is the biggest awareness. Understand the toll this career takes on your body. Take into consideration how many times you will go in and out of the fire truck, climb ladders, lift heavy equipment, be exposed to communicable diseases, the elements, trauma, etc. It is not just the body that holds these physical traumas, there is a strong connection between the brain and body. Being injured during your career can cause depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress – which can lead to substance abuse, dissociative behaviors, and self destruction. By being aware of these possibilities, you can prevent negative outcomes.
Very few people who enter this career leave the same person. Just like in anything, the more experience we have in life and our careers, the more wisdom and understanding we gain. Your career in the fire service is only a small portion of your life. You will spend ⅓ of your life preparing for this career, ⅓ of your life doing this career, and hopefully with the knowledge you gain you will have a successful ⅓ of your life after this career. If you are already in the fire service, it is never too late to start implementing these practices into everyday life. For some of us, in the later time in our career, it may have altered our mindset, but we are taught to always be flexible and adapt. Looking back on my 28 years in the fire service, I feel that I have had a very successful career. This includes successes, setbacks, sacrifices and losses. The connections to the people I’ve worked with, to the lives I have directly saved, and the sacrifices that I’ve endured have all been worth it. I feel that I have received more in regards to self gratification, purpose, and service than I have given. I encourage anyone who is thinking about a career in the fire service, or who is currently in the fire service, to go for it!